ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

A locavore moves from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and rediscovers what "local" means.


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Picnic Chicken Sandwiches

I enjoy the novelty of good road food. I rarely eat and drive-the roads in New Hampshire are too hilly and curvy. But Sam and I planned a road trip to visit his grandmother and I was anticipating 4 hours of flat, straight interstate highway driving. One of my fiend’s mom would pack up a box of these sandwiches for our drive back home after visiting. They’re ideal road food because they are small bites, don’t make a mess, and taste better after being in the car for a few hours.

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Picnic chicken sandwich

Two boneless skinless chicken breasts with tenderloins.
Penzey’s sandwich sprinkle, or a similar blend of spices.
Flour
Butter
Vegetable oil
Bread
Lettuce
Mayonnaise

Step one. Separate the tenderloin from the breast. Cut the breast into two pieces the short way then cross cut to make four chicken cutlets.

Step two. Liberally sprinkle each side of the chicken pieces with sandwich sprinkle. Pound out the chicken cutlets until they are one quarter to an half an inch thick. Make sure that they are of uniform thickness.

Step three. Dredge the chicken pieces in a light coating of flour.

Step four. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Once the pan is hot and the butter has stopped foaming, lay three pieces of chicken into the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Add extra butter or oil to the hand as the fat is absorbed by the cooking chicken. Set the chicken aside on paper towels to cool.

Step five. After cooking the chicken, lightly toast the bread in pan, using extra butter if needed. Cut into triangles.

Step six. Smear a bit of mayo on the bread (optional, especially if you’re not going to have a cooler to keep your food cool.) Top the bread with a slice of lettuce and a piece of chicken. Fold the bread around the chicken to make a pocket.  Wrap in wax paper and pack up for your picnic.

Edited on Aug 1, 2013 to improve language in step 6.


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Why I am a Locavore

This is as local as it gets, folks... Mom's garden peas.

This is as local as it gets, folks… Mom’s garden peas.

Sam and I traveled back to Wisconsin for a much-needed visit with our family and friends. I got to spend a few days in Madison, the place I consider my “hometown” and at my parent’s house, the place where I grew up. I was back in my original location where I became a locavore. The return to my origins, of sorts.

Looking at the wide open plains and the 40-mile views, I asked myself, Why am I a locavore? What is it about this place that made me want to eat here?

Madison is a warm, fertile environment for locavores to grow. We have really excellent year-round farmer’s markets, a great Co-op, and a bounty of CSAs, resulting in easily accessible produce for city-dwellers. Plenty of excellent restaurants feature local foods, including Le Etoile. REAP works tirelessly to promote local eating and Miriam Grunes, the head of the REAP group, is a force of locavore nature herself. Wisconsin is a farm-friendly state with acres and acres of pasturage for cows, and good soil for crops. In Madison, we were surrounded by other locavores – friends with CSA memberships, or that shopped at the COOP or that brought kale recipes to potlucks. Being a locavore was an easy as falling off a log – another thing we weirdos do in Wisconsin.

But my locavore roots go deeper than this- I realized while eating sun-warmed strawberries from my mother’s garden. I was raised a locavore. A hyper-locavore, in fact. I was raised eating each summer from the bounty of my mother’s garden: asparagus, peas, beans, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, raspberries (Oh Heaven, the Raspberries!), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, golden oregano that supplanted the yard… Built into my childhood was the underlying premise of eating what’s seasonally available, looking forward to seasonal foods, eating seasonal foods until they were (not literally) coming out of my ears, preserving seasonal foods for eating in the off-seasons, and longing for seasonal foods when they’re not available. We were “locavores” before the word “locavore” was coined.

I was taught the tools to enable me to eat locally throughout my childhood. I remember “camping” with my classmates down at Lorado Taft (I had my first slow dance with a boy in this room…) and learning about all of the exciting nuts that you could eat that were found on the grounds. I think they just wanted cheap labor to shell black walnuts, but… The neighbor kids and I would find puffball mushrooms in the woods behind my parent’s house and cook them like scrambled eggs. I knew where ALL of the wild gooseberries grew. Mom was always canning during the summers and my sister and I would help with some of the work like frenching green beans.

Sometime during my pre-teen years, I got mad and pounded out of the house and hid away behind the raspberry canes where I knew my mom couldn’t see me from the house. My plan was to live in the garden, eating raspberries and uncooked green beans and carrots covered in dirt and never go home again… That tells you how deep this goes. At my most resourceful, I was dreaming of living off my mom’s garden.

I am a locavore because I have always been a locavore. As a kid, I was a freeloader off Mom CSA. Now, as an adult, I’m just doing what I learned when I grew up… That’s why I’m a locavore.


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Blackberry Financiers

(Hand-foraged) Blackberry Financiers. They're "rich." Get it?

(Hand-foraged) Blackberry Financiers. They’re “rich.” Get it?

Yesterday, I went on a hike with Pidi and was fortunate to come upon ripe blackberries. Usually, if I encounter ripe berries on a hike, they go straight from the bush to my lips. But I exercised a bit of self-control (only after I ate a whole bunch of them, standing in the woods…) and brought back home a heaping cupful of ripe, sweet fruits. I was going to freeze them and eventually make some wild-foraged berry jam, but Sam had the fantastic idea of making Financiers.

I got this recipe from Ripe for Dessert by David Lebowitz. For the longest time I couldn’t understand WHY they were called Financiers…

Blackberry Financiers

  • 7 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 3⁄4 cup sliced blanched almonds
  • 1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoon flour
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 6 ounce blackberries (or raspberries or blueberries)
  1. Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 12 cup muffin tin.
  2. In a skillet, heat the butter until it begins to sizzle. Continue to cook over low heat until the edges begin to darken and the butter gives off a nutty aroma. Remove from heat.
  3. In a food processor, grind the almonds with the granulated and powdered sugars, the flour, and salt. While the processor is running, gradually pour in the egg whites and add the almond extract. Stop the machine, and add the warm butter, pulsing as you pour, until the batter is just mixed.
  4. Divide the batter evenly among the buttered muffin cups and poke 3 or 4 berries into each cake. Bake for 18 minutes, until puffy and deep golden brown. Let stand a few minutes them remove them from the pan to cool on a rack.


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Foraging Fail- These are not the currants you are looking for…

Mink Brook

Mink Brook

Pidi and I took in the beautiful Summer weather by hiking into Hanover along Mink Brook Trail to have coffee at Umplebys. It takes us about an hour to walk there and the walk is very pleasant along the bubbling Mink Brook.

Berries

Berries of an unknown origin

On the way out of town, I noticed some berries and stopped on our way back home to pick what I thought were red currants. If we were in Wisconsin, they likely would be currants, but, TotoPidi, I’m afraid we’re not in Kansas anymore. I took a taste of a few berries and they had the sourness of currants, but also a little bit of bitterness. I picked about two cups into Pidi’s hiking water dish and finished the walk home.

The Foraginging Goddess (God?) must have been smiling on me, because I walked past a bush of ripe blackberries too! I was able to pick a big cup of blackberries, or blackcaps. Beautifully black and sweet. I strode home with a big F of my chest for Forager!

Getting home, the niggling doubt started to eek away at my confidence. Believing myself to be a saavy forager, I turned to the Interwebs for guidance… what were these little berries I had picked? They came from a short (6′) shrub with almond-shaped leaves. The berries grew in pairs along the base of the leaves. They were abundant and ripe in mid-June in New Hampshire.

Winterberries. They were stupid winterberries. Completely inedible due to theobromines, chemicals related to caffeine, found concentrated in the seeds. I had picked compost fodder. Bah. And they were making my stomach upset.

But, unwilling to admit defeat, I did turn the blackberries into some damn good Blackberry Financiers. They’re “rich.” Get it? Look for a recipe tomorrow.


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Hot Spicy Cheese Bread.

People from Wisconsin will put cheese on anything. We eat cheese that’s from cows or goats or sheep, that is new or well-aged, that has been wrapped in cloth or covered in wax. Wisconsinites (a.k.a. “Cheese heads”) will  batter and deep fry it, grill it, put it on sticks, add it to pizza, and serve it with apple pie. Most every restaurant entree comes with a bit of cheese on top. We even make beer and cheese soup.

So, it’s natural that Wisconsin would have cheese in bread, right? Stella’s bakery has been a fixture at the Dane County Farmer’s Market since  1987 serving up beautiful loaves of cheese bread still warm from the oven. According to myth, the hot & spicy cheese bread was supposed to be an empanada, a Mexican filled pastry. Walking around the market, its hard not to notice how EVERYBODY is walking around with a clear plastic bag with a red logo, and a hunk of bread inside. People tear off a piece from the loaf and eat it while walking. There’s no fancy “slicing” going on… Portable and walkable cheese bread.

If you want to try it yourself, a loaf is $17 (including shipping) and it doesn’t arrive warm from the oven.


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Skewer shrimp for fun and profit

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Tonight’s dinner was supposed to be fish with fruit salsa. I headed to the coop thinking “tilapia, or maybe salmon…” but was confronted with the Fish Counter Conundrum… The COOP does a good job labeling the origins of fish and seafood, giving information on how the seafood was caught (farmed, netted, hooked, etc) and how sustainable the seafood is: green for good, red for unsustainable. So, yes, I want to do my soft-hearted liberal best to make sure that I Save the World with my purchases… but at the same time, I was confronted with ASTRONOMICAL price differences. Eating sustainable seafood is really damn expensive. This is the Fish Counter Conundrum.

The exception is always shrimp. They’re bioaccumulating biofilters from the bottom of the food chain that live darn near everywhere, can be caught and farmed sustainably, and don’t require a second mortgage to eat. They’re the pigeons of the sea, or the rats of the sea, or something like that… I was able to get 16 shrimp at 12-16 count weight for around $6. They were listed as “sustainable” and had a big green sign saying that I was going to Save the World if I bought shrimp instead of salmon or tilapia.

I cooked them under the broiler (we can’t grill at our apartment) with a big sprinkle of paprika, basil and some cayenne. The fruit salsa was peach and avocado with green onion. Underneath was pilaf with almonds – unremarkable and not quite in line with the dish, but hey… I’m a home cook, not a chef. I get to make-do and write it off as a resources problem.